The restoration of democracy in Estonia, after the Soviet occupation had ended in 1991, was to become the pilot project of the newly established Jarl Hjalmarsson Foundation. In Estonia, the Foundation tried out, for the first time, its concept of development aid based solely on knowledge transfer and networking between parties in different countries.
Cooperation was established with the conservative liberal party Pro Patria Union (PPU). The party’s youth organisation was part of the project from the start and later the women’s organisation would also be involved.
Initially, knowledge transfer in terms of political handiwork and the structuring of party organisations was the most pressing matter. Later, education would focus on such topics as campaign strategy and techniques, the ideas of democracy and market economy, networking, media management and finally governmental work. The Foundation also helped to introduce the PPU on the European scene by mediating contacts with the European Democrat Union (EDU) and the European People’s Party (EPP). EU and NATO membership was high on the agenda.
At the early stages, Estonian politicians got to meet representatives of the Swedish Moderate Party, which allowed for the exchange of experiences and ideas. Later, the Jarl Hjalmarsson Foundation arranged visits to Sweden and Europe for politically active Estonians. PPU-politicians educated by the Jarl Hjalmarsson Foundation have in their turn educated their colleagues. The Foundation launched a summer school for students from, among other countries, the Baltic States and an academy for female politicians.
Looking back, it is evident that the idea of the Foundation – that education and networking for the benefit of democratisation – was a resounding success: Estonia is currently a democracy and since 2004, a member of the EU. Pro Patria Union is a member of the EPP and it is running its own democratisation projects in other former Soviet republics.